The Rock Star That Never Was
This story is dedicated to anyone who’s ever played in a band.
I grew up in a small town in Northern California. There wasn’t a lot to do if you were a teenager. Hang out, party, cruise the main strip, and start garage bands.
It was the 1980s at the height of the heavy metal era. For a town of less than 15,000 people there were a fair number of bands, many of them pretty good.
There was a massive park near the high school that extended straight up into the hills. There was an open air auditorium that you could rent for an afternoon for $25 dollars. Tons of bands played here to get their start or build their following.
Some of these musicians never made a huge name outside of the area. A few landed record deals, or went on tours, becoming semi-famous. At least one band from my hometown ended up having a #1 album and were a pretty big deal for a while.
There was a band that existed for a few short months, named Xanthippe. For our small town, this was essentially a supergroup where everyone was extremely talented. One guitarist in particular (we’ll call him Alex) stood out even in this group. To this day, he was one of the most talented guitarists I’ve ever seen in person.
Xanthippe broke up after performing a few concerts, and everyone formed their own bands. While Alex’s old bandmates, and even younger bands with not a quarter of his raw talent went on to varying levels of success, I never heard of anything Alex did after that year.
Performing musicians must possess a fair amount of confidence. When talented people are self-aware of their skills, that confidence can veer into ego and arrogance. Lead guitarists and singers are notorious for this behavior. But bands break up over poor internal morale. This renders the energy put into writing, practicing, performing, and promoting a band obsolete.
There is always a power struggle when a band forms. Who will the leader(s) be? Talent and assertiveness are the main factors in determining whose vision the band will follow. But even if a band is a showcase for one or two individuals, the rest of the band must buy into this direction, or the venture will fail.
I have no personal knowledge of why Alex was never heard of again, when he was more talented than many musicians who left their mark on the world. Did other people tell me he was a pain to work with? Did other people speak of him as being arrogant in those times? Yes.
Is talent necessary to do great work? In music, web development or any other field? Absolutely. But an even greater necessity is the ability to work with others, to listen and communicate, to be a good teammate.
It’s a bit ironic that we will sometimes call a talented developer a rock star. There are numerous similarities. But it’s difficult to be a one-person band, in music, in web development, or anything at all.
We rely on others to build things that are greater than ourselves. Even if we create a project by ourselves, we sure as hell need other people to believe in it and tell others about it, or our project dies in the same isolation in which it was created.
No person is an island unto themselves. We can write the greatest song in the world, but it is meaningless if no one wants to play it alongside us.